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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Florida hasn’t won a conference game in its two tries this season.

The Gators hope the third time is the charm when they host No. 14 Penn State on Saturday at noon.

UF (7-4, 0-2 American Lacrosse Conference) lost its first two conference games on the road but has been a more complete team at home. The team’s 6-1 record at Ronald R. Dizney Stadium reflects the fact that it plays more error-free and complete games in Gainesville.

That type of performance will be needed against the Nittany Lions (6-3, 0-1 ALC), who have an arsenal similar to the Gators’.

Six players have double-digit goals this season, and one, Molly Fernandez, is PSU’s version of UF’s leading scorer and assist leader, Ashley Bruns.

Fernandez leads Penn State with 24 points (16 goals and 8 assists). And at the same height as Bruns (5-foot-2), she relies on quickness.

Florida coach Amanda O’Leary said her defenders should be ready for Fernandez after facing Bruns in practice, but she added that to win, her team must contain some of the Nittany Lions’ other threats, play two solid halves and maintain composure down the stretch.

“Physically they are going to be fine, it’s just mentally how we are going to step out on that field, and that’s going to be critical,” O’Leary said. “They need to go out with a sense of confidence that they can win, that they can compete against any team, no matter what their ranking is.”

She added that having the matchup at home is a great opportunity to get over the hump and finally beat a conference opponent.

UF freshmen midfielders Kitty Cullen and Colby Rhea are very familiar with Fernandez. The three are best friends. They attended The McDonough School in Maryland and played together on a club team since they were 12, but Rhea said at the whistle’s blow Saturday, it will be all business.

“We are very competitive, and the fact is that we want bragging rights for the summer, so we need to win this game,” Rhea said. “[Fernandez] calls me the enemy now. When we talk, she’s like, ‘I can’t talk to you now, because you are the enemy,’ but after the game we’ll be able to talk.”

Rhea said they’ll have dinner together Friday night, and although it’ll be strange playing with Fernandez as the opponent, there will be no pass mix-ups because she knows where her loyalty lies.

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“It’s about Florida on Saturday, and we need to pull out this win for ourselves so we know that we can beat a team in our conference,” Rhea said. “I’m looking forward to our first ALC win. We need this.”

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